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BSU Town Hall, 4

“BSU holds town hall exploring affinity housing” is an excellent Record article by Kristen Bayrakdarian ’19. Let’s discuss! Day 4.

The Town Hall began with personal anecdotes from current Black first-years, who discussed their feelings of tokenization within entries and the lack of POC Junior Advisors (JAs), particularly Black JAs to whom they felt comfortable turning to.

1) Are Blacks — is capitalization now de riguer in this, the year of our Lord 2018? — “tokens” at Williams? Depends on your point of view. 90%+ of the Black students at Williams would not have been admitted were it not for their Black’ness. (Harvard accepts every Black applicant with Williams-caliber academic qualification and yields every (?) cross-admit with Williams.) The College ensures that Black students are distributed across the entries. (Details, on this, please. My guess would be that the College likes to place exactly two black students in as many entries as it can.) Is such behavior consistent with “tokenization?”

2) Is there really a shortage of Black JAs? I count no fewer than 8 out of 45! Black students are dramatically over-represented among JAs.

There was discussion of the burden Black first-years, and Black students in general, feel to “educate” their non-Black peers at a time when they themselves are trying to learn, dissect and understand their own experiences.

This is the paradox which must drive Williams administrators (and faculty?) crazy. There are two ways we might treat group X at Williams.

1) Treat membership in group X as irrelevant, be “blind” to whether someone is or is not X. This is how I conduct my own teaching.

2) Make special efforts to seek comments from X’s if the topic before the class has to do with X.

Choosing path 2, although theoretically desirable — what is the point of letting in a student with 1200 SATs if they are not going to enrich the education of their peers with comments that only they are qualified to make? — can generate significant push-back, as above.

Current and past Black JAs also spoke on their varying experiences. Alia Richardson ’19, co-chair of BSU and a JA to the class of 2021, described her own first-year experience as a positive one, stating that she “had a really good experience [and] made a lot of close friends,” and that she spent her time as a JA trying to recreate that positive entry experience for her own first-years. Jazmin Bramble ‘20, current JA to the class of 2022, described her first-year experience as “[neither] positive nor negative.” Bramble discussed how, early on in her first year, one of her JAs, a POC, explained to her that “the [entry] system itself wasn’t going to benefit [her],” so her goal was to simply create a comfortable space within the entry.

I bet that that JA has a very different take on her interactions with Bramble . . .

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4 Comments To "BSU Town Hall, 4"

#1 Comment By Unrelated On December 12, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

I’m still confused as to why John Drew, alleged PhD, is welcomed here as an author.

#2 Comment By DDF On December 12, 2018 @ 1:39 pm

> I’m still confused as to why John Drew, alleged PhD, is welcomed here as an author.

Because everyone who cares about Williams is welcome to be an author!

Do you want to be an author? Let me know. (Just post a throw-away e-mail address.) I will sign you up!

#3 Comment By abl On December 12, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

what is the point of letting in a student with 1200 SATs if they are not going to enrich the education of their peers with comments that only they are qualified to make?

One of the other arguments, which I have articulated repeatedly here, is that if Williams is selecting for raw talent or potential, SAT scores (and grades, high school rigor, etc.), are most helpful in distinguishing like candidates.

In a hypothetical world in which some of Williams’ best applicants have been systemically held back by poverty, by lowered societal expectations, by community trauma, or in other respects, it would not be rational to expect all applicants of like potential to perform similarly on these sorts of metrics. In such a world, especially if there was an identifiable class of students whose true talents and potential had been suppressed in such a manner, it would be reasonable (and desirable) to adjust the admissions criteria for these students accordingly.

The working hypothesis shared by most academics (and most adcoms) is that we are living in such a world, and that African American, Latinx, and Native American students represent three distinct identifiable classes of students for which a 1200 SAT score may not represent the same raw ability or potential as it would were these students white or east-Asian or Ashkenazi Jewish.

You may disagree with this working hypothesis, but I think it’s hard to reject the underlying premise–that there are reasons other than “enrich the education of their peers” to admit a student with 1200 SATs.

#4 Comment By Williamstown Resident On December 13, 2018 @ 6:12 am

The hypothesis is black high school students do poorly on the SATs because of socioeconomic and other environmental factors. This assumption leads Williams to accept black students with SAT scores that are relatively lower than their white or Asian peers.

The question then becomes does the premise that SAT scores are unfair to minorities play out in actual results? Do black students who enter Williams with lower SATs perform as well as their white or Asian peers? What does the data say?